Center the Voices of Black and Brown Youth, not the Police

Dr. Chao Wu, Chair, HCPSS Board of Education; Dr. Michael Martirano, Superintendent, HCPSS

The Board Meeting that took place on the evening of Thursday, September 24th made it clear that the leaders of the Howard County Public School System have no interest in ending the School to Prison Pipeline by removing School Resource Officers (SROs) from schools. Instead, they allowed for SROs to monopolize a meeting in the form of a propagandized report for two hours. We demand that HCPSS stop belittling and silencing the stories of Black and Brown youth who have already come forward against the SRO program, and center their voices! The data is out there. The testimonies have been shared. We demand the removal of SROs now!

To: Dr. Chao Wu, Chair, HCPSS Board of Education; Dr. Michael Martirano, Superintendent, HCPSS
From: [Your Name]

Dear HCPSS Leadership,

We, the undersigned, would like to express our deep disappointment in the HCPSS “report” on SRO’s presented at the Board of Education meeting on the evening of September 24th, 2020.

Our expectation, according to the message provided by HCPSS leadership, was that the report would be a fair, honest, and accurate data-based assessment of the SRO program in HCPSS. Our expectation was that the Superintendent’s report would be an unbiased discussion of the data and information relating to SRO presence in our schools. What actually occurred was hours of pro-police propaganda, as opposed to the expected Superintendent’s report with data and facts.

Instead, a group of HCPSS SRO’s dominated the Superintendent’s “report” to vouch for themselves, with glowing descriptions of their positive impact on schools and touting themselves as the “best that HCPD has to offer”. While anecdotes have their place, they should not have been reported as objective fact without presenting data-based evidence.

Furthermore, where were the voices or representation of those primarily impacted by the harm of cops in schools? How is this considered a fair and balanced “report”? Why is it up to the impacted Black and Brown students, parents, and community members to submit testimony of only three minutes per person, and to always have to jump through hoops and fight just to be heard, yet the cops who cause the harm are the ones invited to speak and given the floor the entire time?

Equally outrageous was the eagerness of these SRO’s to answer the blatantly obvious pro-police questions by Kirsten Coombs, Chao Wu and Christina Delmont-Small that prompted pro-police and positive answers by the SRO’s. Meanwhile those same officers displayed outright resistance to truthfully answer critical questions from Student Member Zach Koung, Jen Mallo, and Board Chair Mavis Ellis. In addition, Christina Delmont-Small’s discourse regarding “gang behavior” and its connection to poverty and race was an unacceptable display of racism and bigotry, characteristics that no board member in charge of a school system should ever possess.

The following displays that occurred during the board meeting were outrageous, disrespectful, harmful, and traumatizing to many students, parents, and members of the community who had to witness or heard about that “report”:
• SRO’s making excuses for their actions and refusal to acknowledge the harm that has been done by them.
• The refusal by SRO’s to take responsibility for the abhorrent and unacceptable disproportionality of arrests of our Black students nor the harm and mistreatment of our youth of which there is proof.
• SRO’s refusal to acknowledge the underlying racism in the criminal justice/police system nor the historical adversarial relationship between Black and Brown communities and police and how that affects the reality of what safety means to students and parents other than white students and families.
• The denial by SRO’s that many Black and Brown students do not feel safer, but rather less safe with armed police officers in school.
• A complete denial by the SRO’s of the racism and racist actions of many of the SRO’s in this county as stated in the hundreds of testimonies submitted by HCPSS students.
• The blatant admission that HCPSS SRO’s define “gangs” as groups of 4 or more students which is ludicrous and clearly leads to targeting and profiling of our youth and gives unchecked power to cops for their racism and bias to manifest in ways that harm our students and unfairly introduce them to the criminal justice system.
• The flat out lies about the facts surrounding the Glenelg graffiti discovery (as if even if the cop was the one to have discovered the graffiti, that that would be a justification to have cops in schools every day!).
• The admission that 9th graders are being charged and arrested for vaping!
• The misinformation given by Chao Wu about the positions of some Black-led organizations of Howard County.
• The racist insinuation and assumption that two Black-led organizations represent and are the voice of all Black people in Howard County.
• Lying about the economic impact that the arrests of students have on students and families in Howard County.
• The omission of the fact that students can be questioned by SROs without notifying their parents/guardians putting them at risk for facing the same injustices that the Exonerated Five endured (formerly known as the Central Park Five) when they were detained and interrogated without the knowledge of their parents.
• The inaccurate insistence that this issue is a “good cop vs bad cop issue”, and that adequate training will somehow undo or prevent the conclusive disproportionate data of arrests, brutality, harm, and the School to Prison Pipeline that affects our Black and Brown students resulting from years of cops in schools.
• The skirting around the fact that SRO’s are in our buildings first and foremost to enforce the law as clearly outlined in the current version of the MOU between HCPD and HCPSS. No amount of plain clothes or “relationship building” will erase that fact.
•The plain lie that SROs are split between middle schools while the truth remains that the SROs are specifically assigned to middle schools where there is a higher concentration of Black and Brown students.
• The assumed lesser impact of paper arrests as opposed to handcuff arrests. Ultimately arrests of any kind results in criminal records that affect the trajectory of the lives of our young people. All arrests feed the school to prison pipeline. Arrests punish students for developmentally appropriate behavior and criminalizes normal childhood mistakes. As educators, we should teach our students how to handle conflicts and deal with their emotions not causing lifelong harm for a momentary (developmentally appropriate) lapse.

What we witnessed last night was a perfect reflection of the HCPD/MOU itself: essentially unchecked power handed to HCPD by HCPSS/BOE (which they use to abuse, bully and silence), with zero accountability to any stakeholders, especially the students that they are supposed to be protecting.

What a shame that when HCPSS had a great opportunity to put its stated values of anti-racism and equity into action, its actions were the opposite of those values and goals. Words matter nothing if actions prove otherwise. The absolute disrespect of and disregard for those harmed by and negatively impacted by police was unacceptable and beyond disappointing. The trauma that our Black students, educators, and families endured due to that meeting is inexcusable.

Not only do our Black friends, families, and neighbors have to constantly watch murder after murder of Black men and women by police, and witness yet another unjust declaration of innocence of murderous cops for killing an innocent Breonna Taylor, and live in a racist system that constantly blocks and prevents the realization of freedom and justice. But, to be re-traumatized by HCPSS (the same school system that is supposed to nurture and protect students, and the same system that promotes “equity”) by invoking emotions of injustice and rage, is outrageous and shameful.

The SRO report on September 24th demonstrated to our Black students and families that HCPSS does not believe that their lives matter regardless of any HCPSS resolution passed or statement made. This was the epitome of white supremacy in action.

We, your HCPSS educators, students, parents, alumni, community members, and community organizations, demand that you attempt to repair the harm that has been done by what occurred at the board meeting. We again urge the board members and all HCPSS leadership to review the following information and resources that was provided weeks ago by Peers Not Perps and HoCo for Justice, two Black and Brown led youth organizations. We demand that the voices of those most impacted and most marginalized by police and by racist systems and institutions be put front and center in any and every discussion, report, or decision moving forward. We demand that representatives of the undersigned be given two hours of uninterrupted time at the next HCPSS BOE meeting to make a presentation of the facts regarding the effects of the SRO program in HCPSS.

Information and resources: